Pen­sion re­form needed now

North Penn Life - - Opinion -

Gov. Tom Cor­bett likens Penn­syl­va­nia’s pub­lic pen­sion prob­lem to a tape­worm, a par­a­site that de­vours new rev­enue as fast as an im­prov­ing econ­omy can cre­ate it.

“:H KDYH WR FRn­sLGHU HYHUyWKLnJ,” Ln fixLnJ WKH SUREOHP; LW’s the “tape­worm of the bud­get,” he told a Dig­i­tal First Me­dia ed­i­to­rial board meet­ing this month.

Cor­bett called pen­sion re­form the one thing he seeks to acFRPSOLsK WKLs yHDU. 3URSHUWy WDx UHIRUP ZLOO KDYH WR ZDLW.

Cor­bett’s call to ac­tion is not with­out merit. The pub­lic pen­sion drain has es­ca­lated to a cri­sis in Penn­syl­va­nia with nearly $700 bil­lion in year-over-year cost growth rob­bing state cof­fers of 62 per­cent of any new rev­enue.

In re­cent years, both the state em­ploy­ees fund (SEoSF and pub­lic school em­ploy­ees fund (PSEoSF have ac­crued un­funded li­a­bil­ity amount­ing to bil­lions of dol­lars a year, ac­cord­ing to bud­get Sec­re­tary Charles Zogby,. The funds’ cur­rent un­funded li­a­bil­ity is $41 bil­lion, not in­clud­ing fu­ture short­falls.

gust to get the funds back on good foot­ing would re­quire a WDx LnFUHDsH RI $9,000 Rn HYHUy KRusHKROG Ln 3HnnsyOYDnLD, Zogby said.

How Penn­syl­va­nia’s pub­lic pen­sions got to this point can be HxSODLnHG, EuW nRW ZLWKRuW SDLn. ,W’s D sWRUy RI JHnHURus EHnH­fiW in­creases with­out cor­re­spond­ing changes to con­tri­bu­tions. It’s a time­line of “kick­ing the can down the road,” as Zogby puts it, in­ten­tion­ally un­der­fund­ing the sys­tems and push­ing the li­a­bil­ity into the fu­ture. In 2001, the Leg­is­la­ture moved to en­hance PHPEHU EHnH­fiWs Ey LnFUHDsLnJ WKH PuOWLSOLHU WKDW FDOFuODWHs pen­sion amounts. In 2002, em­ployer con­tri­bu­tions from school dis­tricts and government were capped. In 2003, Act 40 was passed to re­strain fu­ture growth in em­ployer con­tri­bu­tions.

And, through­out the time, in­vest­ment growth was nil, send­ing the funds into a down­ward spi­ral.

8nOLNH 401(N) RU SULYDWH LnYHsWPHnW IunGs, D GHfinHG EHnH­fiW SHn­sLRn SODn PDLnWDLns D OLDELOLWy Ln SDyRuW nR PDWWHU ZKDW hap­pens to in­vest­ments. While SEoS and PSEoS fell in value, li­a­bil­i­ties grew. And the tape­worm grew, too.

While the path that brought us here is ob­vi­ous, the way out is more clouded.

7KH UHIRUP flRDWHG PRsW RIWHn Ls PRYLnJ DZDy IURP D GHfinHG EHnH­fiW SODn WR GHfinHG FRnWULEuWLRn, D SURSRsDO WKDW ZDs SDUW RI a 2010 pen­sion re­form package which did not go far enough. ZRJEy sDys sWDWH RI­fiFLDOs DUH ORRNLnJ FORsHOy DW UHIRUPs WULHG Ln RWKHU sWDWHs, LnFOuGLnJ FKDnJHs Ln EHnH­fiW FDOFuODWLRns, suFK Ds FDSSLnJ WKH sDODUy RU UROOLnJ EDFN WKH PRGL­fiHU.

Cor­bett says a pro­posal will be part of his bud­get plan this yHDU, DOWKRuJK KH DGPLWs KLs RI­fiFH KDs OLWWOH WLPH WR fiJuUH RuW WKH sSHFL­fiFs. HLs RnOy KLnW WR WKH HGLWRUs’ JU­RuS ZDs WKDW DGMusW­ments to the mul­ti­plier could make an im­por­tant dif­fer­ence.

BRWK RI­fiFLDOs sWUHssHG FKDnJHs KDYH WR WDNH LnWR FRn­sLGer­a­tion what peo­ple have al­ready earned and what they are count­ing on. Cur­rent re­tirees have to feel se­cure their pen­sions won’t be af­fected, they said.

What they don’t say is how they plan to con­vince state em­ploy­ees and the state teach­ers union that change has to hap­pen.

“7KH WDxSDyHUs JHW LW,” ZRJEy sDLG. 7KH SHRSOH RI 3HnnsyO­va­nia know this is a cri­sis. But for pen­sion re­form to work, the state needs to get the unions and groups rep­re­sent­ing pub­lic em­ploy­ees on board, as well as the law­mak­ers.

One way might be to en­list the ideas and help of those groups in writ­ing the re­forms. It’s time now to get down to brass tacks DnG fiJuUH RuW D SODn WKDW nRW RnOy ZLOO ZRUN EuW DOsR WKDW ZLOO have the needed sup­port. That tape­worm gets hun­grier by the day. Jour­nal Reg­is­ter News Ser­vice

An email that Chel­tenham his­to­rian Wil­liam Cham­brés sent me re­cently about the oev. Dr. Martin Luther King gr.’s love of MDzz SURPSWHG WKRuJKWs Rn the black mar­tyr’s so­cial­re­li­gious artistry and the work of a lo­cally-based scholar who marched with King and wrote about the preacher’s tran­scend­ing con­cept of “soul force.”

Such soul­ful power — that can be har­nessed by any God-fear­ing hu­man be­ing — epit­o­mizes grace­ful courage and strength even in the midst RI WKH PRsW KRUUL­fiF SHUsH­cu­tion, es­poused the oev. Dr. Leonard E. Bar­rett, a black theologian, or­dained min­is­ter and lin­guist, Ln KLs 1974 ERRN, “6RuO Force: African Her­itage in African-Amer­i­can oeli­gion.”

In fact, “No one stands out more than Martin Luther King gr.,” wrote Bar­rett, a re­tired and noted Tem­ple rniver­sity pro­fes­sor who lived in Chel­tenham. King’s “writ­ings and de­vo­tion to Black bet­ter­ment … in­spired a whole gen­er­a­tion of men and women of all races. His life and dreams will il­lu­mine the pages of Black his­tory for gen­er­a­tions to come.”

Although Dr. Bar­rett, who was my neigh­bor and dear friend at the Cedar­brook Hill apart­ment comSOHx Ln CKHOWHnKDP PRUH than a decade ago, sadly died in 2003, the gamaica na­tive also wrote the landPDUN 1997 ERRN, “7KH 5DsWDIDULDns,” HxSORULnJ the re­li­gion and even lib­er­a­tion roots of oeg­gae, an­other vi­tal form of black PusLFDO HxSUHssLRn.

It’s clear that Bar­rett and King had a very deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of early black-rooted mu­sic, es­pe­cially its spir­i­tu­al­ity that em­anated from rhyth­mic slave chants and church spir­i­tu­als, de­vel­op­ing into the blues, “soul,” oeg­gae, rap or hip-hop and the in­no­va­tive­ness of MDzz.

I re­mem­ber con­ver­saWLRnDOOy HxSORULnJ WKRsH links with a by­gone good IULHnG — MDzz PusLFRORgist Har­ri­son oi­d­ley gr., of Tem­ple rniver­sity’s WoTI-FM — as we’d cruise the city, usu­ally on our way to a speak­ing en­gage­ment.

In fact, King, while a stu­dent in the Philly area dur­ing WKH HDUOy 1950s DW WKH CURzHU The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Ch­ester and the rniver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, had a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion of AfricanAmer­i­can life, ven­tur­ing into the city to wor­ship at black churches, get hair­cuts and likely a few plates of South­ern-based soul food.

He even lec­tured and preached at Chel­tenham High School, as well as Salem Bap­tist Church in genk­in­town, dur­ing the height of the civil rights PRYHPHnW Ln WKH 1960s EHIRUH KLs 1968 DssDssLnD­tion. And along the way, it’s clear that King be­came fa­mil­iar with the ge­nius of im­pro­vi­sa­tional MDzz, sRPHWLPHs char­ac­ter­ized as Amer­ica’s orig­i­nal mu­sic born from the soulIuO UKyWKPs, MRys and agony of the down­trod­den that King de­fended so well with his in­de­struc­tible “soul force” — an en­ergy that led to the elec­tions of Barack Obama as WKH fiUsW EODFN SUHsLGHnW RI the rnited States.

King had to be moved by the di­vine com­po­si­tions of the late, great 3KLODGHOSKLDn, sDxRSKRnist gohn Wil­liam Coltrane. And he would have been in­spired by the tunes of Philly bassist Chris­tian McBride, one of the many su­perb mu­si­cians (in­clud­ing Dee Dee Bridge­wa­ter, Benny Green, Lewis Nash, Chris Pot­ter and Am­brose Ak­in­musireF in the up­com­ing Feb. 2 Monterey gazz Fes­ti­val 55th An­niver­sary Tour at Philadel­phia’s Mer­riam The­ater.

King’s telling words in the for­ward of a pam­phlet SURPRWLnJ WKH 1964 BHUOLn -Dzz )HsWLYDO, UHflHFWs KLs pas­sion for the genre and such mu­si­cians: “God has wrought many things out of op­pres­sion. He has en­dowed his crea­tures with the ca­pac­ity to cre­ate — and from this ca­pac­ity has flRZHG WKH sZHHW sRnJs RI sRUURZ DnG MRy WKDW KDYH al­lowed” lis­ten­ers “to cope with … en­vi­ron­ment and many dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions,” King wrote.

“Long be­fore the mod­ern es­say­ists and schol­ars wrote of racial iden­tity as a prob­lem for a mul­tira­cial world, mu­si­cians were re­turn­ing to their roots to af­firm that which was stir­ring within their souls,” King ob­served.

“Much of the power of our Free­dom Move­ment in the rnited States has come from this mu­sic. It has strength­ened us with its sweet rhythms when courage be­gan to fail. It has calmed us with its rich har­monies when spir­its were down.”

The mu­sic, in other ZRUGs, HxSUHssHs WKH EULOliant core of what is so vi­tal for achiev­ing true OLEHUDWLRn DnG MusWLFH: WKH force of soul.

Don ‘Og­be­wii’ Scott, a Mel­rose Park res­i­dent, can be reached at dscott9703@ aol.com.

A Place in His­tory Don­ald Scott

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